Thursday, October 25, 2012

Israeli Right's Superbloc

There is huge political news out of Israel today, where Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman have announced that their respective Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu parties will run on a joint list in the coming national elections:
The alliance between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu creates a potentially powerful right-wing super bloc that many predict will form the foundation of the next coalition government...
In the current Knesset, as the parliament is known, the two parties hold a combined 42 seats, but they hope by joining forces they can win as many as 50 in the January poll. 
Analysts viewed the move as a preemptive strike against Israel’s centrist and leftist parties, which are also considering forming a super bloc to challenge Netanyahu. Recent polls predict the revitalized Labor Party could win the second-highest number of seats in the next Knesset.
The mooted centrist superbloc mentioned in the last paragraph quoted above might be headed by former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is attempting in a political comeback as a candidate who can reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, as he was reportedly on track for at the time of his 2009 ouster.  Such a bloc, probably combining Labor, Kadima and Yair Lapid's new Yesh Atid party, would also call for increased social spending, hitting Netanyahu in his two weakest areas.

Some in sympathy with Israel's center-left are speculating that Likud could bleed centrist voters who reject what are some fairly racist and Fascist impulses in Yisrael Beiteinu.  What I think is more interesting, however, is what Jeffrey Goldberg highlights: the significance for the Haredi and other staunchly conservative religious Jews.  Yisrael Beiteinu's base is immigrants from the former Soviet Union; the party's name means "Israel is Our Home."  This base is fiercely nationalistic, but also secular in its social outlook, and ending what amount to significant financial handouts and special privileges to Israel's conservative religious communities has been an important part of its agenda.

I foresee more religious voters abandoning the Likud over this than I do moderates, many of whom have already given their loyalties to Kadima.  These voters would instead vote for one of the religious parties such as Shas or the National Religious Party.  However, what happens if this election involves two superblocs, and that becomes a trend with the religious parties and the Arab parties and Meretz becoming third and fourth forces respectively?  The outsized political influence of the Haredi developed largely with the fracturing of the Israeli political landscape in the late 1970's and early 1980's, when offering money for their priorities became an easy way to get them into a governing coalition.  If superblocs, now or in the future, get 45-50 seats, however, it becomes quite foreseeable that one could pick off a party or two from the other and slash those subsidies and privileges.  Shaul Mofaz's Kadima, which officially spent time in Netanyahu's coalition because of the Tal Law, has already shown the way, and after this election, Lapid's party could also be ripe for picking on those grounds.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home